Thursday, January 9, 2014

A new Lieberman?

It is a time-honored rule of media coverage: “If a dog bites a man, it's not news, but with man bites dog you've got a story”. Two weeks ago, "man bites dog" for the Israeli media was the extreme right KM Moshe Feiglin taking part in a rally for the legalization of cannabis and singing "You and I will change the world".  But soon there came up a man biting a bigger dog: the peace-seeking  Avigdor Lieberman.

Yes, none other. Avigdor Lieberman, the tireless provocateur, the most  undiplomatic Foreign Minister in the world’s diplomatic history who had been  an unwelcome guest in Washington and the European capitals, the man who enjoyed Arab-bashing and gained thereby a considerable electoral profit. And suddenly, over the past week we hear quite a new tune in the media:  Lieberman bypasses Netanyahu on the left, Secretary of State Kerry pleasantly surprised by Lieberman, Lieberman became the cabinet’s “responsible adult”, Lieberman inches closer to Tzipi Livni's positions... What a surprise, what a celebration for the media!

So, is there a new Lieberman? Not exactly. It took less than a week for the sheepskin to start sliding off and expose the wolf’s sharp predatory teeth. Lieberman would support an agreement only provided that the region known as “The Triangle", home to hundreds of thousands Arab citizens of Israel, would be passed over to the Palestinian state to be established. And what if these inhabitants do not consent to be so transferred? Lieberman does not care. For him the main thing is to reduce at all costs the number of Arabs in Israel.

But there is a problem, which could have been made clear to Foreign Minister Lieberman had he bothered to consult one of the experts in International Law employed by his ministry. A sovereign state can indeed resolve, through the procedures set forth in its laws, to give up part of its sovereign territory and hand it over it to another state – either an existing one or a newborn nation.   There are many examples of that in history. But a country (at least one which claims to have a democratic regime) is not entitled to deprive its citizens of their citizenship against their will.

In other words, if a government of Israeli so resolves, and if it gets duly  ratified by the Knesset, the border of the State of Israel might indeed be redrawn to run directly east of Highway 6. This would leave Umm al-Fahm, Tira and Taiba and sundry other towns and villages - whose residents happen to be Arabs - in the territory of the to-be-established State of Palestine. However, such a move would in no way change or revoke the status of these Arab residents as full-fledged Israeli citizens. They would continue to hold Israeli passports and identity cards, to be entitled to all the rights of a citizen of Israel with regard to National Insurance and health insurance and the like. They would go voting in Israeli elections and sending their representatives to the Knesset in Jerusalem, and of course would be entitled – like any other Israeli citizen - to live and work anywhere in the State of Israel, their own country.

Should a resident of Umm al-Fahm in Palestine choose to move his residence to Acre or Nazareth to Tel Aviv, he would be entitled to the benefits conferred by the State of Israel upon “returning residents", as are conferred on an Israeli citizen returning here from a life in New York or Berlin. And what about the next generation, those who would be born after the border is redrawn? Also in this respect, the law is quite clear. There have been numerous cases of young people born abroad to Israeli citizen parents - and who, when coming for a short visit to Israel, found that the state of Israel considers them to be Israeli citizens in every respect, including being liable to military service…

In short , if Lieberman is seeking to reduce the percentage of Arabs among Israel’s citizens and to reduce the number of Arab Knesset Members, handing the Triangle to the State of Palestine would in no way move him closer to this goal . When someone finally takes care to clarify to him these facts of life, it would likely cool his enthusiasm for this kind of land swaps.

Or maybe not? It might be that Lieberman does not believe or intend to reach any agreement or land swap of any kind. It might well be that he is just thinking of the next elections and of garnering the votes of both: confused leftists and racist Arab-haters…